The introduction of tougher security measures within the workplace has led to a decline in work-related violence over the past decade. However, such measures have not eradicated the problem altogether and each year, thousands of employees are subject to acts of violent behaviour, be it from customers, fellow co-workers or in some cases, complete strangers.

The most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), cited by the Health and Safety Executive, estimated that 257,000 employees experienced work-related violence during 2013/2014, including both threats and physical assault. A total of 583,000 incidents were recorded, comprising 314,000 threats and 269,000 physical assaults.

Violence in the workplace can take a number of different forms and has numerous causes, meaning there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to tackling the issue. Causes could range from an angered customer to uncertainty of employment or unmanageable workloads. Sometimes, attacks are completely unprovoked.

The safety of your employees is as much to do with co-workers and customers as it to do with you. However, as a business owner or leader, it’s your responsibility to ensure steps are taken to minimise workplace violence through clear and direct communication with employees as well as with customers.

It may not be possible to foretell acts of violence, but the steps listed below will help you to significantly reduce the likelihood of them occurring within your organisation.

1. Devise a ‘violence in the workplace’ policy

All organisations should have a written policy in place to address your business’ zero-tolerance approach to workplace violence. This policy should include:

  • A definition of workplace violence.
  • A description of staff and manager responsibilities.
  • A list of prevention and management measures.
  • Information on workplace violence risk assessments.
  • Recommended actions to take following an incident.
  • Information on reporting and recording procedures
  • Reference to your disciplinary policy that states an employee displaying violent behavior may be liable to disciplinary action, including summary dismissal for gross misconduct. Your disciplinary policy should also list violence in the workplace as a potential example of gross misconduct.

Once written up, the policy should be distributed to all members of staff so they are fully aware of your company’s procedures.

2. Take action

Once you have a policy in place, you must be pro-active in enforcing it, which means taking action when necessary. For instance, if an employee demonstrates aggression towards a colleague, you must discipline them accordingly. Staff should feel comfortable coming to you with issues and know that you will deal with them effectively and in a timely manner.

3. Provide training to all staff members

Staff working at all levels within your organisation should be trained on how to recognise and deal with both internal and external workplace violence. During the training sessions you must stress the importance of reporting all incidents to management, regardless of whether an employee was directly involved in the incident or not.

4. Monitor your team

Small issues left unresolved by employees can escalate into violence. Monitoring how your team work together will allow you to spot these issues early on and see that they are dealt with. To help, you should regularly set aside time to sit down with each employee to discuss any issues they may be experiencing.

5. Build a strong team

Working as a team has numerous advantages (it fosters creativity, builds trust, encourages healthy risk-tasking, to name a few), but having your colleagues collaborate with one another isn’t always easy. Often, colleagues will have different opinions or approaches to how tasks should be completed, and this can lead to tension and conflict.

Your role is to build bridges among your colleagues and encourage ‘healthy’ team work as much as possible. Not only must you stress the benefits of team work, but also the benefits of a diverse workforce, encouraging your team to celebrate one another’s differences instead of viewing them as a challenge.

6. Consider additional security measures

Implementing a policy on workplace violence will only help you so much; if you want to ensure the safety of your staff then you must consider additional security measures. For example, installing CCTV cameras and making customers and staff aware of their presence will help limit the chance of violence occurring in the workplace.

What measures have you put in place to minimise the likelihood of violence within your organisation?

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